As I write this, it’s the 4th of July weekend, which, of course, means it’s prime grilling season. But there’s another type of outdoor cooking that’s been growing in popularity, and that’s pizza making.
Over the last few years, home pizza ovens have grown increasingly affordable and easy to use, and so are popping up in more households. One of the most distinctive of these ovens is the Solo Stove Pi, introduced last fall. Solo Stove recently sent me a Pi to try out for myself, as well as several accessories.
Why a Pizza Oven?
There are a few reasons you may want a pizza oven at home. One of the main reasons to get a pizza oven is to enjoy the taste of a woodfired pizza. While some pizza ovens can be used with propane fuel or are even electric, many, like the Pi, burn wood to heat the oven. And much like using wood chips in a grill, the wood imparts its flavor to whatever you’re cooking.
A pizza oven makes pizza night a communal event. Instead of getting delivery or popping a frozen pizza in the oven, making and baking your own pizzas becomes an enjoyable group activity. Some of the braver souls may even try tossing their dough in the air, just like professional pizza chefs.
Pizza making is also a great way to make a meal during those hot summer and fall months when you don’t particularly want to run the oven in your kitchen. Instead, you can just head into your backyard, fire up the pizza oven, and have a perfectly cooked pizza in a couple of minutes.
What Is the Solo Stove Pi Pizza Oven?
The Solo Stove Pi is a stainless-steel, dual-fuel pizza oven. By dual-fuel, I mean that it can either burn wood or, with the gas burner accessory, you can attach a propane tank. It is designed with a demi-dome construction so that convection distributes heat evenly.
The Solo Stove is available in a wood-only model for an MSRP of $519.99, or with an included gas burner for $649.99. However, as of this writing both models are currently discounted significantly at both Solo Stove and Amazon. Solo Stove also offers several bundles of the Pi along with various accessories, which provide even greater discounts than when purchasing the bundle contents separately. And it’s worth mentioning that you can always purchase the wood-only model, and add the gas burner later if you desired.
Setting Up the Solo Stove Pi Pizza Oven
Solo Stove sent me their Pi Ultimate Bundle, which has pretty much everything one needs to make a pizza other than the ingredients and the fuel. Here’s what comes in the bundle:
- Pi Pizza Oven
- Pi Stand
- 12″ Bamboo Peel
- Stainless Peel
- Stainless Turner
- Silicon Mat
- Pizza Cutter
- Pi Shelter
I used kiln-dried oak cooking wood and pine firestarter chips generously provided by Big Tex Firewood for use while testing out the Pi Pizza Oven.
While the Pi Pizza Oven can be used on a table, the Pi Stand is a dedicated home for the oven. Much like a grill stand, it has room not just for the Pi Oven, but also for tools and ingredients.
Assembling the Pi Stand is a reasonably simple affair, and the bulk of the assembly can be done by one person. The only time that a second body is helpful is while attaching the large circular shelf. That shelf needs to be held in place while it is secured to the legs with screws.
I did encounter one hiccup with the stand, and that was with the assembly of the legs. Each leg comes in two parts, and the arrangement of the top parts of the legs matters when it comes to adding the side shelves in a later step. However, the illustrations were not that clear on that matter. This resulted in me having two pieces in the wrong positions. While I was still able to safely rest the Pi Pizza Oven on the stand and start cooking, I would have to go back and do a partial disassembly of the Pi Stand to swap the two leg pieces a couple of days later.
The photo below is of the stand after correcting my mistake. Should you get a Pi Stand, make sure that you have two pairs of legs where the holes for the screws face each other, in order to properly attach the side shelves.
And here, at last, is the fully-assembled Pi Stand:
The Pi Pizza Oven, placed on the Pi Stand:
If you’re setting up the Pi Pizza Oven for burning wood, there is very little that you need to do out of the box. The Pi comes mostly pre-assembled. You will just need to remove some tape that holds the rear door, fuel grate, and ash pan in place during shipping.
Along with those parts, there is also a handle to open and close the rear door, a fuel stoker, and a 2-piece pizza stone.
The double-sided pizza stone easily inserts into the oven.
Once the pizza stone is seated in the oven, you’re ready to add some fuel and get to pizza making!
Baking With the Solo Stove Pi Pizza Oven
As it was my girlfriend’s birthday, we decided to host a pizza-making party on the 4th of July weekend. That way, we could really put the Pi through its paces! In advance of everyone showing up, we prepared several balls of dough to allow time for them to rise.
Once the guests had arrived, they got to work spreading out the dough and adding toppings, while I was in charge of the fire and baking the pizzas.
Following the instructions, I placed some natural fire starters at the bottom of the fuel grate (in this case, some of the pine chips from Big Tex Firewood). I lit those on fire, added about 4 of the oak logs, and closed the rear door.
Soon, the fire was roaring away! Initially, there was a fair amount of smoke, but that quickly died down.
With the Pi Pizza Oven, you want to reach and maintain a 650° temperature when burning wood. This requires you to periodically check with the temperature gun, and add 1-2 pieces of wood to the rear fuel grate every 5 minutes or so.
A digital thermometer was included in the bundle Solo Stove sent me. You simply point the thermometer at the center of the pizza stone and pull the trigger to see the current temperature of the stone.
Speaking of the ultimate bundle, there are two different pizza peels: a bamboo peel and a stainless steel peel. The bamboo peel is for loading the uncooked pizza into the oven, as the raw dough will slide off bamboo easier than metal.
However, you still need to have a liberal amount of either semolina flour or cornmeal sprinkled onto the peel in order to allow the dough to easily slide into the oven. That was not the case in our first pizza, which definitely turned out to be a test case.
For one, the person who prepared the first pizza couldn’t get the dough into a circle, and instead, the pizza ended up shaped somewhat like a dog biscuit. And as there was hardly any flour on the peel, the pizza became smashed up as I tried to get it off the peel and into the oven. We decided to try and save the pizza by turning it into a calzone, but then it also got a bit overcooked.
However, with that reject out of the way, we had learned our lesson and were ready to make a much better pizza. This was our 2nd attempt:
It was still a little well done, but very tasty and actually looked like a pizza! We ended up making 5 more pizzas after that, with each one coming out better than the last.
In between each pizza, I would usually need to add a piece or two of wood to the fire, stoking it with the included tool. And as the flame is at the back of the oven, I was regularly rotating the pizzas with the stainless steel pizza turner.
Using the Gas Burner Accessory
When burning wood, you need to keep constantly checking the temperature in the oven so that your pizzas bake properly. With the gas burner, you have a dial that you can adjust, so you can easily maintain the temperature you want.
The gas burner installs at the rear of the oven, replacing the fuel grate, ash pan, and rear door. There are a couple of screws to secure it to the Pi Pizza Oven. Once it’s installed, you simply hook it up to a propane tank and within 15 minutes of starting the flame you’re ready to bake.
Solo Stove Pi Pizza Oven – The Verdict
As you could see from the pizzas we made, there was a bit of a learning curve to using the Pi Pizza Oven. It certainly is a bit challenging at first getting and keeping the temperature right where you want it.
Using the gas burner instead of wood definitely makes it easier to get consistent results. And with the gas burner, you also end up with less cleanup afterward. Not only did I have ash to empty from the wood, but also a fair amount of soot that had accumulated on the top front of the oven from the smoke.
However, there are two important differences when using wood, beyond the intrinsic challenges. For one, you’re not going to get that wood-fired flavor when using propane. Everyone raved about the smoky flavor of the pizzas. You can still make a delicious pizza by cooking with gas, but it won’t be the same.
The other difference is actually quite subtle: there’s a more artisan feel when baking with wood. There’s not that same consistency as with gas, but that’s part of the pleasure of cooking that way.
By the end of the party, most of the pizza was consumed, and everyone was happy. Many of the people there had contributed to making the pizzas, which was definitely part of the fun. And once we had the hang of things, we could have easily made a dozen more pizzas that night.
The Solo Stove Pi Pizza Oven is easy to set up and use, whether you want to burn wood or gas. As I was new to baking pizzas in a pizza oven, it was also very helpful to have gotten a bundle with all of the accessories I needed. While there was a little bit of a learning curve, I was soon confidently baking pizza after pizza. While it does take a little time to get the Pi hot enough, once the temperature is ideal, it only takes a couple of minutes to bake each pizza. Which is certainly fantastic when you have a whole party of people to feed!
If you’d like to change up your outdoor cooking, the Solo Stove Pi Pizza Oven is a terrific addition to your backyard. Not only will you have great homemade pizzas, but its distinctive look is quite stylish.
For more information on the Pi Pizza Oven, head to the Solo Stove website.
Solo Stove provided a unit for evaluation but had no input into this review. Thanks to Big Tex Firewood, which provided the wood for cooking. As an Amazon affiliate, I may earn a small commission from qualified purchases.